A Guide to Exploring the Amazon

Published on: September 11th, 2014

Last modified: October 26th, 2023

Discover which Amazon gateway to travel from for wildlife sightings, a tribal journey or luxury river cruising.

Evoking images of verdant rainforest, isolated tribes and abundant wildlife, the Amazon brings out the intrepid traveller in many of us. But, as this huge wilderness spans across nine countries, it’s hard to know how to accomplish the Amazon journey you’ve been longing for. The Brazilian, Ecuadorian and Peruvian gateways each offer a different Amazon experience, from cultural insight and wildlife sightings to riverboat exploration. Read our guide to find out which region you’re best suited to.


The Gateway: Manaus

Why Here you’ll experience the sheer scale of the Amazon more than anywhere else. The river is at its widest in Brazil, where from one shore you can be several kilometres from the other, and sunset over the river is an unforgettable sight. The region’s terra firma means the forest’s trees are older and taller than that of the flooded forest elsewhere in the Amazon, while also enabling more overland exploration and trekking. Fly into the city of Manaus and cruise along the Rio Negro confluence before passing through the Anavilhanas archipelago – the world’s largest freshwater archipelago with a staggering 400 river islands – or stay at Anavilhanas Lodge to explore the area in more depth. For an even more remote experience, travel from Manaus to Alta Floresta before taking a boat to Cristalino Lodge, which is set in its own 28,167-hectare reserve. Alternatively fly to Santárem, known as the Caribbean of Brazil due to its clear water and 100 kilometres of sandy shoreline. With the Amazon river running by, this city is a convenient base for Amazonian exploration, although it may not offer the pristine rainforest wilderness that you’ll experience in more offbeat locations.



The Gateway: Quito

Why Ecuador offers a cultural experience that’s unrivalled by other accessible Amazonian regions, with native guides who can show you the land they know so well. The Huaorani tribe has successfully retained its culture and identity, while providing travellers with a unique insight into their way of life, as well as the importance of protecting their environment. After taking a private flight to the remote Huaorani Ecolodge, a member of the tribal community will lead you on a journey through the Amazon – while teaching you about Huaorani culture and raising awareness of the reality they face with deforestation – from the lodge’s pristine wilderness to a working oil plantation.


The Gateway: Coca

Why The northern Ecuadorian Amazon is best known for its abundance of wildlife, putting it at the top of the list for wildlife enthusiasts. Stay at one of the region’s luxury lodges and explore the surrounding area by setting out on canoe trips, along walking trails, across canopy walkways and on sunset cruises. Sacha Lodge is just a short trip from Coca, while La Selva Ecolodge is located on the edge of Yasuni National Park, designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve and noted for being one of the most biologically diverse places on earth. To combine modern comfort with rainforest exploration, travel along the river on the Anakonda Amazon Cruise, offering onboard luxury alongside regular excursions into the wild.



The Gateway: Iquitos

Why Expedition cruises in the northern Peruvian Amazon take passengers deep into the rainforest, onboard what could rival a five-star hotel, to the flooded forest of Pacaya Samiria Reserve, which offers a different experience to that of the Brazilian and Southern Peru’s terra firma. The cruises’ outstanding guides are on-hand for each of the excursions, making the flooded forest and river exploration, as well as visits to indigenous villages, even more rewarding. Some say this is where to head for the most pristine Amazon rainforest that’s accessible, and where the fingerprint of mankind is less evident.


The Gateway: Puerto Maldonado

Why Just a short flight from Cusco, Puerto Maldonado is a popular gateway to the southern Peruvian Amazon. With little time, you can take a boat to one of the riverside lodges, from where the rainforest and river are easy to explore by hiking through through the forest and taking boat trips to seek out the Amazon’s wildlife. This region might not feel so far off the beaten track, but it does afford a true Amazonian experience within easy reach of Cusco. By travelling further from Puerto Maldonado, you can reach Manu Biosphere Reserve. Offering a more remote setting of forest, streams and waterfalls, wildlife thrives here with macaw clay licks, otter lagoons and the elusive jaguar.